**Mise en place: So important to make sure you have all the ingredients before you start a recipe.
Oven Thermometer: I had no idea I needed to use one of these … I use it every time. Ovens take a while to heat up to the right temperature.
Parchment Paper and Half-Sheet Pans … Game changer for me. My grandmother and mother never used these but I’d be lost in the kitchen without them.
From reading Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbooks, I was very surprised to learn that even in professional bakeries, baking the same recipes repeatedly, sometimes there’s a failure. She wanted to hide these mistakes so managed to hide them until she could discard elsewhere. It reminds me of when I was a secretary long ago, with a typewriter. Rather than having to erase carbon copies, etc., I’d start over and hide all that ruined paper and take it home to toss out.
Another thing Joanne Chang mentioned was that people don’t cream the butter and sugar long enough. So, I do it longer now but don’t really know when enough is enough.
For recipes I want to save, I enclose the paper in a plastic sheet and place in a notebook. To use, I post it on my kitchen cabinet with a piece of masking tape.
It’s good to write notes on your recipes, like “reduce sugar,” because you will probably forget.
I love Barefoot Contessa and Smitten Kitchen recipes because they aren’t overly complicated, great photos, and usually turn out right. With my cooking hobby, my goal was to become a better home cook. I learned a lot on Chowhound and hope to continue to improve here.
When I was younger, I thought there were “good cooks” and “bad cooks”. Maybe there are. Now I think that it’s more likely there are “natural cooks” and those for whom it takes more effort.
But when I observed a good friend’s cooking go from meh to very good (while I was working long hours, cooking not at all, but eating hers a few times a week), that was my first indicator that the latter may well be able to transform to the former with practice, interest, and intent.
Probably about 75% of what I know now! And I learned much of what I know from reading cookbooks, Chowhound, Hungry Onion, and many other food publications. I’m a much better and more relaxed cook that I used to be and trust my instincts and knowledge more.
I did learn one years ago that I use every week for cooking fish. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness. Works every time. I made steelhead for the first time last night, and it was perfect with olive oil, cajun seasoning, and a little butter when I served it. If you like your fish less done, subtract a couple of minutes.
I write on my recipes - in cookbooks, on the random printouts and torn-out magazine pages, and in the notes field of Recipe Keeper for the online recipe. How else will I remember what worked and what didn’t? My favorite notes are a quote from DH on a bad recipe (“it’s not like eating dirt, but pretty close”) and one from then-5yo DS on a good one, in his handwriting (“osom” = awesome).